Ask any American to describe the perfect crust you're going to get the same cockamamie answer, tender and flaky.
How the oxymoron torments me. Why can't anyone see
that they're opposites. Flaky is
crisp, structural like puff pastry. Tender is soft, pliant like a biscuit. Put them together
you've got a biscuit that will snap. No matter what we do tender and flaky
remain polar extremes on the pie/crust continuum.
Of course opposites do attract. If we apply the right science, cunning technique, the right ingredients we could, we should, we will create a pie crust that's truly good eats without being "good grief". Yeah.
Now, since I want a crust that can take the
trip from pan to plate without chipping the
knife, I stick to the middle of the road with all purpose or AP flour. I
like the non-bleached
kind because it browns better.
Most pie recipes call for ice water, but I
don't see why the liquid shouldn't have to bring
some extra flavor to the party. Take a, well, apple juice concentrate. It's mostly water but
it also contains acid which will help to moderate gluten formation and sugar
which will help
to build the crust. And it's cold, so it will help keep the fat solid while we're
Shortening makes an exceedingly tender pie
crust. Shortening remains soft through a
wide range of temperatures so it easily integrates with flour. Now it
doesn't contain any
water, so it doesn't add to gluten production. But, shortening doesn't do
anything for flakes,
structural integrity or flavor or color.
For that you need butter which makes a whole different pie crust. See, butter can be chilled rock hard so that when it's rolled into flour it striates creating a flaky crust. Butter also browns when it's cooked which brings flavor and color to the party. But it also melts at a very low temperature, so you've got to work fast and cold or before you know it, butter will be running off of the dough and onto the dog's head.
Which butter's best? Well, I like premium high-fat butters for sautéing and sauces but that's another show. When it comes to pie crust, I don't care if the cows have been grazing on organic marigolds. What I need is freshness. See, butter looses its sweetness and picks up funky flavors as it ages. So, check the date and go for the youngest you can find. Oh, unsalted only please.
fresh butter = great crust
Start by placing your bowl on the scale and then hitting the zero button, the tare button, zero it out so we're not weighing the bowl along with the ingredients.
|Now the first big player, the first building block so to speak, is fourteen ounces of all purpose flour. Now that's approximately two and one half cups. Zero out the amount after each addition. Now I'm back to zero so we can start fresh again.||
14 oz AP flour or ...
|Next thing up is stone ground corn meal. I'm going to add three ounces of that which is approximately a half cup. We'll see how that goes. One. Two. Three. Now since it doesn't dissolve, the corn meal is going to give the crust a kind of a crunchy toothiness, an added texture that I like a lot. And since it doesn't produce glutton, it will also make it tender.||
3 oz corn meal or ...
|Of course sugar does the same thing, which is why we're going to add three tablespoons of sugar. Of course besides that other thing we were just talking about, sugar also helps the dough to brown as it cooks. And since its hygroscopic, it also helps to retain a little bit of moisture.||
3 Tbls sugar
|Now just because this is dessert doesn't mean that it shouldn't be properly seasoned so we're going to add a teaspoon of kosher salt.||
1 tsp kosher salt
|Now, second building block, butter. Two sticks to be exact. That's half a pound, eight ounces, sixteen tablespoons, 48 teaspoons.||
2 sticks butter =
Now, we want to get this prepped for going
into the fat so what I'm going to do is lay it
out on some parchment. But before I just plop it down, I'm just going to
throw around just
a little bit of flour. That's going to make sure that the chunks of butter
don't just kind of
stick together in one big mass and that's going to make it easier down the line.
them right out kind of roll them around a little bit in the flour just to get
them, so they
won't be quite as sticky.
Now, you can chop these up with a knife, but I really like my board scrapper. It makes it easy and fun which is a wonderful combination. So, just chop right down through this just like that, just chunks, just pieces. Just leave everything right on the board. Throw on just a little more flour. There.
Now, we have reached the great axiom of pie crust making and that is that everything, solid and fat alike, has to be refrigerated. So, straight into the chill. Why bother with this step?
|Because flaky happens with cold chunks of butter are rolled into the flour creating layers of fat. On the other hand, tender happens when soft fat is thoroughly worked into the flour coating the individual grains. Of course, it stands to reason then that a flaky-tender synergy could be achieved if both cold and warm butter were worked into the flour.||
Cold + Warm Butter
|So, I'm going to retrieve a half stick, that's four tablespoons of butter from the fridge and let it come to room temperature.||
1/2 Stick Butter
Now, tool time.
GUEST: W, Equipment Specialist
[W is reading, "Dealing With People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst," by Rick Brinkman, Rick Kirschner]
AB: Hi, W.
W: [all smiles] AB. What can I do for you?
AB: Oh, we'd like to buy a food processor today, please?
W: Oh, one of my specialties. Just follow me.
AB: [knocks stuff to ground on purpose] Oops.
W: Oh, don't worry about that. We'll take care of it. Just come on this way. Now the market is full of food processors with a wide variety of features, accessories and price tags.
AB: So, how do you choose?
W: Well, in the long run you want a machine that can reliably perform a wide range of tasks, right?
|AB: Like the
commercial. Wider is better.
W: Yes, wider is better. Very good.
wider is better
|W: Then it comes down to ease of
use and that's determined by design of power.
AB: Oh, power. Well, that's easy to figure out. What you do is look at the bottom of the motor mount and it's got it kind of embossed right there, 120 V...
W: You know, you know total wattage isn't as important as how the power is transferred to the work bowl and bottom mounted motors do this better than side mounted.
bottom-mounted motor are better
Okay. But what about design? Oh, I like this one with all the buttons that I can't help but notice that I'm not punching yours today.
W: Well, you know, that's because I've decided not to allow your childishness to affect me and all you really need is an on—off switch and a pulse switch.
AB: Okay, well that takes care of the power
about from the bowl up?
W: Well, in case you haven't heard, size matters.
AB: Actually, what I heard is that size is ...
W: Well, you know the small, if it's too small of a bowl then you can't blend soups and you can't shred large amounts of cheese. Too large a bowl and then working with small amounts gets tricky.
AB: Well, pick one for us, Goldilocks.
|W: Well, you see you want a bowl
that's nine to eleven cups. Look for a thick heavy bowl that's less likely to break. And it makes for a quieter machine.
AB: Oh, okay.
9-11 cup capacity ... is better
thicker .. is better ... & quieter
|W: And, you know, if you have a
wide feed tube that's great. That's a good a feature.
AB: Wide. Wider is better.
W: Oh, wide. Wider is better
AB: Ha, ha.
W: I remember. You know this also has a flat top for when you're not using the feed tube.
wider is ... you know
|AB: Okay, so we've got a strong, bottom-mounted engine, a nine to eleven cup bowl that's thick and a couple of different tops. W, you're amazing. Once again, you've sold me. Thanks.||
W: You're welcome.
The first modern food processor,
was invented by physicist Carl Sontheimer in 1971.
Besides our shiny, new food processor phase two hardware includes one rubber spatula, about a two foot long piece of either wax paper or parchment, a squirt bottle containing three tablespoons of our frozen apple juice concentrate and two tablespoons of H20 and a stainless steel bowl the very bowl currently housing or now chilled, dry ingredients. Here's the plan.
|First, we're going to process the dry ingredients just to make sure that they are thoroughly combined. Just get them into the machine, pop on the lid and just pulse two or three times. You just want to make sure that the corn meal and salt are fully integrated.||
pulse to combine
|Now, we're going to add in the half stick of room temperature butter. Remember, it's two ounces and just kind of toss it around make sure that it doesn't stick in there. There we go. Lid it up and process until the fat completely disappears.||
1/2 stick (2 oz) room temp butter
|The reason I'm working in pulses is because the heat from the motor will come up into the bowl if you process too long.||
work in pulses
|There, the butter is completely disappeared but what we do have is you see that the flour is kind of flaky looking. What that means is that the fat has now completely incased all of those little flour particles and that is what is going to give us tenderness. Okay, let's add the rest of the butter.||
butter fully integrated
|The trick here is that the rest of the chilled butter needs to go in installments so we're going to split it in half just like that. Yeah, kind of like that.||
This amount is going to go in and we're going
to pulse maybe, ah, ten times. And what
we're looking for here is kind of a pea-meal type thing. I'm going to work
in one second pulses. What I'm looking for is something that kind of looks like English
peas down there. How long this takes is going to depend on how cold your flour is, what kind of
day it is
outside, what kind of flour you used.
There, that looks about right. See, we've got kind of chunks in there. That's exactly right. Now the last installment goes in and we're going to process this for a very brief amount of time because what we're looking for is some chunks. We want some kind of big honking pieces of butter. So, three, four pulses tops.
One. Two. Three. I'll give it a four. Four. Okay. There. Now we've got some nice, big pieces of butter in here like this and those are the very, very pieces when rolled out in the final dough are going to create those nice long striated pieces of fat, see. And as they melt, the dough around it sets creating, guess what, flakes, and flakes is a good thing to have.
Okay, now we've come to the big, cardinal rule of pie dough making and that's got to do with the integration of liquids. So I'm going to turn this whole mass into a stainless steel bowl. Same bowl is fine. By the way, if you put your finger up in the middle of this it will keep the blade from falling out.
|And now we're going to add as little liquid as possible. Now I like using a spray bottle because I think it covers the most area with the least amount of liquid. You don't have to have a dinosaur, but you know, if you're lucky you will.||
use as little moisture as possible
|Just spray the top until it starts to glisten and then fold with a rubber spatula because we're probably going to work in a total of, well, three tablespoons. But it may not take that much. Again, it depends on the day. It's not a hard and fast rule. There we go with a little more just across the top. Going to scrape that off and fold.||
about 3 Tbls liquid ...
Now when you think you might be getting close, just reach
down and grab a hand full and
make a fist. Let go. Now take a look at it. Has it taken the
crease from your hands? Does
it crumble? Or does it break clean like that? That is by my
estimation just about perfect. But I'm going
to give it a little bit extra because it's a dry day and I know that the flour
is going to be able
to take a good bit of moisture. There. One more stir.
There. I'm going to pack it down. Just kind of reach in make a mound out of it, okay, like this. And then push down in the middle. There, like that. Then I take the parchment paper, wax paper, whatever push down right on top of that. Then, I'm going to turn the whole thing over. There. Now I know that doesn't look anything like dough, yet, but it will. It's going to crack like that so just kind of gently fold it up. It's almost like gift wrapping a package. That's exactly what it is. Fold into the wax paper and again, this goes into the refrigerator for a couple of reasons. I know we're doing a lot of refrigerating here.
For one thing we want the fat which is now loosened up a little bit to kind of re-solidify a little bit. But more than that, we want to give the dough time to hydrate, to kind of soak up the little bit of moisture that we've given it and that's going to take about 20 minutes in there. Now, why be so skimpy with the moisture to begin with? It's all got to do with bungee jumping.
GUEST: Alton Brown Action Figure
As soon as you add water to flour, it finds whatever protein is available and creates those little elastic fibers called gluten. Now, they're just laying there at moment, but as soon as you start to work the moist dough, start rolling it out, well, it's a lot like when I go bungee jumping.
ALTON BROWN ACTION FIGURE: [jumps] Aaaah.
Because you see, just like a bungee chord when those glutens cook they recoil. Which is why a lot of wet pie doughs go in the oven this big and come out about this big. [indicates ABAF] Handsome devil, huh?
Humble Pie: A medieval peasant dish made of animal entrails or "humble".
[Without the ???] filling, crust remains unfulfilled. But as far as I'm concerned, if the filling is not good enough to enjoy out of the crust it doesn't belong inside the crust. But this filling is one I'd eat puréed through a straw. It's that good.
| Start by
heating your cast iron skillet or heavy non-stick pan over medium heat and
add two D'Anjou pears peeled, cored and sliced thin. Toss for two
minutes then sprinkle three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar then toss for
30 more seconds.
2 D'Anjou pears peeled & sliced
|Next comes four tablespoons of sugar. Then once the pears have softened, grate on a pinch of nutmeg, sprinkle on a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon and add two tablespoons of butter. Melt slowly then toss in a cup of blueberries, remove from the heat, sift on teaspoon of flour to thicken and bring to room temperature. Because if were to put this on to the dough right now, well, it's so hot it would melt right through. So, time to roll, but with what?||
4 Tbls Sugar
Of course when it comes to rolling pins there are a lot of choices out there. My own personal collection includes metal, marble, French, those that make impressions, those that cut shapes. But if you are only going to own one, go big and go heavy. 14" inches of solid maple is the way to go. Now of course anybody whose tried to do any serious rolling knows how tough it is to get a disk of dough down to one quarter of an inch thickness. Luckily this is a McGyverable dilemma. The answer of course is a rubber bands used as spacers on either end. Just to be sure we've got the correct depth, whip out your tailor's ruler and make sure you've got a quarter of an inch.
Other hardware for phase three includes a pizza cutter, dental floss, one sheet of parchment paper and a half sheet pan. This is an insurance policy we're going to take out by putting inside the freezer.
You remember that crumbly pile of mess we had twenty minutes ago? That's what happened to it. That's what happens when a dough has time to rest and hydrate. It feels, feels perfect. If we'd left it in there any longer we'd probably have to let it sit at room temperature before we worked it.
And ounce of butter, a small amount of water— we've maybe got a third of a cup here, and flour. And you need a good bit of flour because we're going to dust as much real estate as we can afford.
1 oz (2 Tbls) butter
So, just kind of strow this with flour, just
fling it out everywhere. Dough goes right in
the middle of the table.
Now start with the pin straight down and move straight out, turning ten minutes each time. Don't get into this business [rolling every which way] or you'll turn it into a protozoa. Just keep rolling from the middle straight out.
|And if it sticks, just use the floss to separate the dough from the table.||
|Now, even skilled rollers are going to end up with a slightly misshapen dough. If that happens just use the pizza cutter to bring it back into round.||
|If you get any melting or heating of the dough, apply that cold pan. That will help to reset the fat and give you a little more working time.||
really cold pan
|Now keep rolling and turning straight down and straight out until you no longer feel any resistance. That's how you know you got a quarter inch thick. Roll it up on the pin, lay it out on a parchment covered pan inverted. Now, just kind of smooth up the cracks and tears if there are any.||
look ma ... no pie pan
|And we're going to add a cup and a half of cake crumbs, either white cake or pound cake will do fine. It will add great flavor. And just spoon on the filling. You see the filling is going to stick to those cubes keeping it from running off. Couple of tablespoons of butter just for added flavor and color and we're ready to fold, no pan necessary. Sweet, huh?||
|Just crimp and add a little bit of water as you fold up the dough, almost like pleats.||
|There's one more kind of layer of color and flavor we can add and all we have to have is one beaten egg mixed up with a little bit of water. This is what is called an "egg wash". We're just going to kind of slurp that around on the outside. This is going to provide extra browning. Egg is mostly protein and proteins brown. That's what they do.||
1 egg, beaten
|I think I'm going to add just a little bit of sugar just a sprinkling. That's going to kind of make it look a lot prettier when it comes out. It will sparkle and it will add a little bit more sweetness to the crust. That's a teaspoon, tops.||
1/2 tsp sugar
| Everything is
in place and this now finds its place in a 400 degree oven right in the
middle on the top shelf.
|I'm going to set the timer for about 25 minutes although odds are really good that its going to take at least 30 minutes. I'm going to want to check on it in 25. Get your appetite ready.||
check in 25 min.
In France, "galette" refers to any free form tart whether sweet or savory.
|Thirty minutes later and this is what we've got to show for ourselves. Now, it looks done. We've got a lot of great color but that could be from the egg wash or even from the sugar. To really know for sure you've got to push on it a little bit. If the pleats kind of give but feel like they'd break if you kept pushing, then you're there. It's set. You can also take a look at the filling. Is it kind of glazed over, maybe a little bubble in there? Yep, this galette is a go.||
30 minutes later
|Now, you could pull this, cut it and serve right away. But those that are in the know about galettes know that it's better to let it go to room temperature then serve.||
cool & serve at room temperature
Of course, the question remains, will this
finally rid me of those diminutively demonic pugilists? Only one way to find out.
Definitely flaky and yet, and yet
Eh! Now look. The way I see it you guys can definitely coexist, flaky and tender. I mean, come on. Without a little flakiness, tender crust just lies there and crumbles in the pan. What good is that?
You. [to Tender] I mean, come on. Without a little tenderness what is flaky but all structure and no soul. No, you guys belong together. You should be with each other. It's the American dream, flaky and tender. Gosh, there's nothing like a good love story unless of course it's Good Eats. I'll see you next time.
Last Edited on 08/27/2010